Riding the single chair ski lift to 3637′ summit of General Stark’s Mountain at Mad River Glen is among my life’s great pleasures. The lift pulls you ever upward through the forest at treetop height. You sit comfortably in solitude soaking it all in. The experience imparts a sense of serenity that competes with the giddy anticipation of the long, fast descent that awaits. The best moment comes when your chair attains the elevation that affords you a sweeping panoramic view over the spine of the Green Mountains to the shimmering shores of Lake Champlain that lie beyond, stretching northward in the distance to the Canadian border. It is a compelling visual reminder that “The Lake Starts Here.”
When the snow melts it flows downhill into one of the many Vermont rivers that feed into Lake Champlain. These rivers and the mountains, forests, farms, and developed areas that drain into them are the Lake’s watershed. Credit for the clever hashtag #LakeStartsHere goes to our angler amigos at Lake Champlain International who are working in concert with the Vermont Ski Areas Association to raise “watershed” awareness among Vermonters and our visitors through a contest featuring photos like the one at right. The idea is to help people make connections between the snow they ski on in the winter and the water they drink, swim, fish, and boat on in the summer; as the seasons turn one becomes the other.
Watershed awareness is sorely needed at this critical moment in the history of Lake Champlain cleanup. While the Lake is a drinking water source for nearly 200,000 people and a recreation destination for thousands more, it is too often out of sight out of mind for many Vermonters who do not live in communities that touch the Lake’s shores. Yet the polluted runoff from farms, logging sites, roads, parking lots, industrial sites, downtowns, strip malls, and housing developments along with the polluted wastewater from those upstream communities all contribute to the clean water crisis (e.g., toxic blue-green algae blooms, noxious weed growth, fish kills) facing one of the nation’s largest freshwater lakes.
The Clean Water Act and Vermont’s own state water quality laws require everyone to do their part for cleanup. The laws are based on the wise premise, beautifully articulated by poet Wendell Berry, that we must do unto our downstream neighbors as we would have our upstream neighbors do unto us. At some point we all live downstream and, more importantly, we all benefit from clean water.
Fortunately, many of the pollution control measures Vermonters must undertake to clean up Lake Champlain will benefit local waterways and community bottom lines too.
- When upstream farmers prevent manure runoff and soil erosion they not only reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing downstream to Lake Champlain, they also keep water free of harmful bacteria that can make local swimming holes unsafe and reduce sediment that clogs fish habitat.
- When municipalities upgrade culverts and line ditches along their gravel roads they reduce erosion of phosphorus-laden sediments and also reduce the amount of money spent on road maintenance over the long term.
- When real estate developers install “green stormwater infrastructure” at shopping plazas and housing developments, they reduce overall flows of phosphorus runoff flowing downstream to the Lake and at the same time reduce flash flooding risks in local rivers and streams caused by the artificial concentration of runoff from an overpaved landscape.
- When ski areas maintain or restore robust buffers on high mountain streams, they minimize the local erosion hazards that result from clearing
trails and reduce pollutants that flow downstream.
In the wake of CLF’s precedent-setting lawsuit and settlement with EPA seeking a truly effective and comprehensive cleanup framework for Lake Champlain, the administration of Governor Peter Shumlin and EPA officials are wrestling with the final details of a new plan. CLF is playing an active watchdog role to ensure that Governor Shumlin, the state legislature, and EPA officials live up to their responsibilities under our clean water laws by holding all contributing pollution sources accountable to do their part. If and when they do, we can launch a new watershed-wide photo contest: #ACleanLakeStartsHere.